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The Pigman, by Paul Zindel

12 Feb

 2005 edition, Harper Teen, ISBN 0-06-075735-3

Plot summary: John and Lorraine are high school sophomores who make prank telephone calls to amuse themselves and their friends. One day, they call Angelo Pignati pretending to be a charity looking for donations; Mr. Pignati, a lonely man, starts a conversation that leads to an unlikely friendship. Mr. Pignati – called the Pigman both for his last name and his collection of pig figurines – is a widower grieving the loss of his wife, and spends his days going to the zoo to feed a baboon named Bobo and spending time (and money) on his new friends.

John is too eager to let the Pigman spend money on him, but Lorraine has a slightly greater moral center and expresses some guilt and hesitation over the Pigman’s gifts. They both find themselves developing affectionate feelings for the Pigman, but when he is hospitalized after a heart attack, they make themselves too comfortable in his home, eating his food and ultimately throwing a party that ends up with the destruction of the Pigman’s property, including one of his deceased wife’s dresses. At the crux of the party, the Pigman arrives home from the hospital and witnesses the destruction.

Brought home by the police, John and Lorraine are racked with guilt over the incident and ask the Pigman to meet them at the zoo. They meet to discover that Bobo has died, and the grief is too much for the Pigman to take. He dies of a heart attack – or is it a broken heart? – at the zoo, John and Lorraine standing with him. The two teens decide to write their story of the Pigman as a tribute to him, in the hopes of easing their own consciences about their role in his demise.

Critical Evaluation: Although first published in 1968, The Pigman remains relevant. The characters are teens who act and speak like real teens. The story is told in a first-person narrative, with John and Lorraine alternating chapters. John is sarcastic and witty; Lorraine is John’s guilt-ridden foil – she is responsible where he appears to be a slacker; she feels uncomfortable accepting money and gifts from the Pigman where John believes that he should let the Pigman buy them things because it makes him happy.

Both characters are realistically written and the Pigman, a lonely old man in search of human contact, calls up sympathy in the reader. The difficult relationships each of the teens have wiith their parents will resonate with readers, many of whom share the same issues at hand today.

Awards:  American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book, ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults, Horn Book Fanfare Honor List (1969), New York Times Outstanding Children’s Books of 1968, Book World’s Best Children’s Books of 1968.

Reviews: School Library Journal: “An intensely moving story of believably alienated young people.”

Reader’s Annotation: For John and Lorraine, prank phone calls were just something they did for fun. But the day Mr. Pignati answered the phone, everything would change.

Author Information: Paul Zindel’s website offers information about the author, all of his books, and information for teachers, including links to several study guides.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, with subgenres including friendship, dysfunctional families, grief and loss.

Booktalking Ideas: Two teenagers, each feeling misunderstood in their own way by their parents, connect with a lonely old man through a prank. The seemingly one-sided friendship, with Mr. Pignati giving and John and Lorraine, the teens, taking, ends with a tragedy that leads them both to write down their story as a way of coping with their grief.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-16

Challenge Issues/Defense: Alcohol/tobacco usage. Defense – Portrayal of troubled teens, concentrate more on the overall story and how the book exists as a coping mechanism for their acts.

Why did you include this book in you’re the titles you selected?
The book is an enduring classic and features teens in realistic situations dealing with problems that resonate with readers today.

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